US gave PM green light for Givat Hamatos construction 1.5 years ago – report

Netanyahu said international pressure prevented announcement until less than 2 weeks before elections, but report says he knew White House had already okayed controversial project

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands at an overview overlooking the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, where he announced a new neighborhood is to be built, February 20, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands at an overview overlooking the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, where he announced a new neighborhood is to be built, February 20, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly received the green light from the US to lift restrictions against the construction of a controversial neighborhood in East Jerusalem more than a year and a half ago, but delayed the announcement until last week, less than two weeks before the elections.

The plan for construction in Givat Hamatos was first brought forward in 2012, earning widespread condemnation in the international community over its cutting off of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Beit Safafa and Sharafat from the West Bank, in a manner that critics said placed a nail in the coffin of a two-state solution based roughly on the pre-1967 lines.

However, Army Radio reported Tuesday, a senior unnamed US official told Israeli officials 1.5 years ago that the Trump administration would not object to the construction.

Netanyahu’s announcement last week appeared to have been the first time the prime minister publicly admitted to having placed a building freeze on the Givat Hamatos plan, explaining that he had been under immense pressure from other countries not to build there. According to the report, officials said that this included pressure from the US.

A picture taken on July 4, 2016, shows a mobile cabin in the Jewish neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, in East Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Netanyahu announced that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents in Givat Hamatos in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.

The significance of Netanyahu’s approval was not immediately clear, given that the final authorization for construction in Givat Hamatos had already been given by his office six years ago.

Addressing reporters in front of Har Homa along with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Netanyahu said that in addition to the 2,200 units he had signed off on for the neighborhood behind him and the 3,000 units for Givat Hamatos, he had also green-lit 1,000 homes for Palestinians in the neighborhood of Beit Safafa, which has long suffered from a housing crisis.

France and Germany on Friday slammed Netanyahu’s announcement, saying it was an obstacle to a future two-state solution.

“The expansion of these two settlements directly undermines the viability of a future Palestinian state, as the European Union has reiterated on several occasions,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“All forms of settlement activity are illegal under international law and challenge the two-state solution on the ground. France urges the Israeli authorities to reconsider these decisions and to refrain from any unilateral measures,” the statement read.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, stands with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, left, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, right, as he announces a new neighborhood is to be built in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, Feb. 20, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP)

Germany said it was “deeply concerned” by the announcement, saying the construction would “undermine the prospect of viable and contiguous Palestinian state on the basis of a negotiated two-state solution.”

The left-wing Peace Now organization pointed out Netanyahu had inflated the numbers in his announcement. The Givat Hamatos plan slated to be brought before the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee next week consists of 2,610 homes, not 3,000 and the project in Beit Safafa is for 805 homes not 1,000.

The announcement from Netanyahu came less than two weeks after the Housing Ministry began advancing a plan to build a massive Jewish neighborhood in an East Jerusalem area that appears to be earmarked in the Trump administration’s peace plan for a Palestinian tourism center.

On February 9, the ministry submitted a building plan that would see some 9,000 housing units constructed at the site of the Atarot Airport, which has been inoperative since the breakout of the Second Intifada in 2000.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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